Health Benefits of Garlic

Find out more about garlic nutrition, if it's really helpful for fighting the common cold and how should you eat it.

overhead photograph of heads of garlic on slate background

A little bit of garlic in a dish can go a long way—and also really elevate your meal. Its pungent scent and identifiable taste can be traced back to garlic's abundant sulfur compounds. It's those same compounds that give this little allium its robust health properties.

But is garlic really the disease-fighter you think it is? We dug into the science and found a few reasons to add more garlic to your diet.

First, what's in a clove of garlic? Here are the nutrition facts:

In a clove of raw garlic, there are:

  • Calories: 5
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrate: 1g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sodium: 1mg

In a clove of cooked garlic, there are:

  • Calories: 3
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat: 0g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrate: 1g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sodium: 5mg

Looking at these numbers it's that much clearer that there isn't much difference nutritionally between raw and cooked garlic. And so if there's one form you prefer over another, lean into it. From a macronutrient perspective—meaning fat, protein and carbohydrate—garlic doesn't deliver a lot. But there are some health reasons to eat up.

What are the science-backed health benefits of eating garlic?

In the past, garlic has been used and recommended for its anti-infective properties: lab studies have shown garlic to have antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties. Garlic is also a prebiotic, meaning it feeds the "good" bacteria in your digestive tract, which further supports your overall health (learn more about prebiotics and why they're good for you). Add to the list some specific health boons, which we've outlined below.

Improves blood pressure

If you have high blood pressure, lowering it has the potential to both reduce your risk of stroke and developing heart disease. A meta-analysis that looked at over 900 people—published in The Journal of Nutrition in February 2016—found that those who took garlic supplements significantly lowered their blood pressure, if they had high blood pressure. (Those with normal or "prehypertensive" blood pressure didn't reap notable rewards.)

What is it about garlic that is so helpful? Experts think the compounds in garlic deliver a one-two punch: both relaxing arteries and reducing their constriction, which are actually separate mechanisms that can help. (Learn more about the best and worst foods to eat for healthy blood pressure.)

Garlic can help lower high cholesterol

Research shows that garlic supplements can slightly lower cholesterol levels—if taken for at least 2 months. On average, total cholesterol dropped 17 points and LDL dropped 9. Still, a small reduction in cholesterol can have a sizeable impact on your future heart disease risk: a mere 8 percent decrease in cholesterol has the potential to lower your cardiovascular disease risk by 38 percent. More research is needed, but eating more garlic won't hurt and may even help. (Eat more of these 10 foods to help lower cholesterol.)

May help prevent blood clots—in higher doses.

In a study that compared garlic supplements at 3 doses to Plavix (a blood clot prevention prescription medication), researchers found higher doses of garlic pills to be quite effective at blood clot prevention. That said, other research didn't find any benefit to taking garlic pills for preventing blood clots. Thus, the scientific jury is still out, but taking garlic supplements or eating garlic won't hurt, per se.

Boosts your immunity

Research shows that garlic supplements might help cut the number of colds you have, how long you're actually sick, and reduce illness symptoms. And also because of its anti-inflammatory properties, garlic could also protect you against future chronic disease.

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that aged garlic extract helped decrease cold and flu symptom severity and decrease the number of days of work or school missed due to illness. Garlic won't fight off colds, but it may help reduce symptoms. Again, there's no magic pill to enhance immunity (these tips on healthy immunity and what to eat and avoid can help) but eating more garlic doesn't seem like a bad place to start.

What's the best way to eat garlic?

Again, it depends on your preferences. There are plenty of healthy garlicky recipes, you can add garlic to fish, vegetables, pasta, casseroles, soups and more.

But for the biggest nutrition punch you want to make sure you crush or chop it thoroughly and let it sit for a few minutes, which will activate enzymes that make those sulfur compounds that much more available to your body. Put another way, it makes the health benefits greater when you crush or chop your cloves—then wait—before eating garlic.

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